Protecting the Vulnerable

by Gerry Lynch last modified 01 Oct, 2014 05:27 PM

South Sudanese Anglicans take risks to protect members of minorities made vulnerable by civil war

The story below was posted to Bishop Anthony Poggos's Facebook page in the past week. Although Kajo-Keji has been spared the worst of the fighting in South Sudan's ten month long Civil War, the wider tensions it has unleashed led to a upsurge in tension between Kuku and Ma'di people in recent weeks on either side of the South Sudan-Uganda border. Church leaders, including Bishop Anthony, have played a key role in managing tension and working for reconciliation.

Across South Sudan, the UN reports 1.35 million people internally displaced with a further 450,000 fleeing South Sudan entirely. Over 2 million people are in the crisis or emergency phases of food insecurity, especially in the east and centre of the country. Tens of thousands have been killed in fighting.

Amid tragedy on such a scale, this is an inspiring tale of Christian good neighbourliness among ordinary people, transcending ethnic divisions, in the face of real risk to their personal safety and lives.

By the Right Revd Anthony Poggo, Bishop of Kajo-Keji

The youngest guest to spend a night at the Bishop's residence checked out yesterday after 4 nights stay. This guest was 8 day old Yokwe who was born on 19 September. His mother, Susan, is a Ma’di lady married to a Kuku husband. She has lived in Kajo-Keji ever since she was 8 or 9 years old. She came to Kajo-Keji to take care of her elder sister’s children; her sister is married here in Kajo-Keji . Susan speaks excellent Kuku as she joined Primary 3 in one of the local schools but dropped from school before completing Primary 8.

Two days before violence erupted, the 20 year old Susan was taken to hospital to deliver her third child. She gave birth to a healthy baby boy but was told of how violence had erupted at the border and while in hospital she heard a few unkind words from a few people who knew her origins. She decided to leave the hospital for her home less than 24 hours after giving birth so as to be safe.

When she reached home she heard that a handful of people were targeting people of Ma’di origin including those with Kuku spouses. Her neighbor, a Lay Reader, who had arranged for the boda boda (motorcycle taxi) that had taken her to hospital, came to encourage her and pray with her. That night she barricaded herself in her tukul (traditional thatch-roofed home) with all the furniture that she could put across her door. She was on her own as her two older children had been taken to their grandmother when she was in hospital. Her husband was with his other wife.

She had a sleepless night. In the morning she tried to find a safe location away from her house until the time when she was picked up by some of the church leaders who were moving around rescuing people who were afraid or felt their lives were in danger. She was whisked away to Kajo-Keji police station where she joined a group of 140 plus people who were already there.

On the evening of Tuesday 23 September as I was about to leave for my house after visiting the people at the police, this young lady came to me and asked whether she could be moved to another place as her 4 day old baby had cried the whole night; this is because the place they slept in was very cold. I immediately asked permission from the police to take her and the baby to my house. The officer in charge of the station had no objection to this request but wanted to know the name of the mother and child. She told him her name but said the baby had no name as yet. When the husband visited two days later, he came with the birth register card which showed that he had given him the name Yokwe but in the confusion that followed, she had forgotten the name.  

In talking to her, I found out that Susan had attended the 6 months training called Shonglap that the Diocese of Kajo-Keji runs for young mothers and school drop outs, in partnership with Stromme Foundation. At the end of the 6 months training, participants choose an Income Generating Project that they are given further three months training in. Susan opted to get training in catering. She did not start her catering business due to lack of start up funds although she has already bought some of the utensils needed. She told me that when her baby is three months old and she gets the needed funds, she would like to start her catering business.

Yesterday a group of 7 of us escorted baby Yokwe and Susan to their home. Although we did not find his father and siblings at home, a group of people came from the neighborhood to welcome Susan and Yokwe back, including the Lay Reader who had prayed with them. We prayed and wished them all the best.

Susan and Yokwe’s story is one story with a happy ending. There are very many untold stories of many people in both Moyo and Kajo-Keji who gave sanctuary to those who felt threatened or were afraid from attacks by hooligans who took advantage of the situation to fan ethnic conflict and got involved in criminal activities. I know of a pastor who gave sanctuary to 5 people. 

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